2015-16 Kinder Dissertation Fellows Panel Discussion


Below is a brief recap of a February 5 panel discussion during which Kinder Dissertation Fellows Rebecca Miller and Kathryn VanderMolen presented their doctoral research to colleagues in the Political Science and History Departments.

“Subnational Consequences of Natural Resource Extraction on Political Participation”

Rebecca Miller led off the event, giving a talk on the implications of the mining industry on democratic participation in South Africa. Working backwards from the observation that natural resource wealth increases protest activity while simultaneously decreasing conventional political participation in mining communities, Miller resolved this seeming contradiction by framing it within the context of the consequences of mining companies acting as state-like entities. Specifically, Miller noted how the effect of mining on political participation is largely a function of the degree to which the state retreats in mining communities and shifts governing responsibilities—namely service provision—to the mines. In instances when mines became the primary provider of services such as hospitals, roads, schools, and lights, Miller observed a marked increase in confrontational (as opposed to assimilative) political participation, characterized by low voter turnout, preference for extreme political parties and actors, and high rates of protest. She concluded, however, by noting that citizens still targeted grievances against the government and not the mines in these instances, as a result of factors such as a lack of clarity regarding whom the responsibility for service provision fell to and significant variation in the ways in which the mines consulted with members of the communities of which they were a part.

PSDF MillerRebecca Miller earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her doctoral research at the University of Missouri examines the economic determinants of political behavior, with a specific focus on variation in community involvement in natural resource governance and its implications for political participation in democratic nations. Rebecca is a past recipient of a research and travel grant from the Kinder Institute, the Edith Taylor Therrien and Robin Remington awards from the MU Department of Political Science, and a Henry Mitchell Scholarship to support study at the University of Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa.

“Severing the Electoral Connection: Public Preference for Governing through Experts over Politicians”

In beginning her presentation, Kathryn VanderMolen noted how, while some literature on public preference for the nation’s “fourth branch of government” exists, much of it is relatively and problematically uncritical when it comes to addressing the reasons behind the public’s positive perception of non-elected officials. In particular, she pointed out how little has been done to situate often cited factors for the public’s support for these officials—such as the objectivity of the bureaucratic decision making process and the perception of bureaucratic actors as independent experts—within the context of enduring nationalist trust in democratic institutions. In surveys she created to unpack the basis for public acceptance of non-elected officials, VanderMolen observed that this acceptance is often tied to variations in the language used and the type of trust cued by questions posed to the public. For example, while using language such as “merit-based” to describe bureaucratic actors’ qualifications often positively shapes public opinion, the same cannot be said when these actors are characterized as “political appointments.” Similarly, whereas preference for non-elected officials often comes when specific trust is cued, questions that cue diffuse trust tend to reinforce broad support for democratic institutions and processes.

PSDF VanderMolenKathryn VanderMolen completed her B.A. in Political Science at DePaul University in Chicago. Her dissertation work at the University of Missouri focuses on voter-representative dynamics within the American democratic system, and devotes particular attention to examining the nature and consequences of citizen preferences for bureaucratic actors over elected officials in the United States. More broadly, her research interests include issues pertaining to trust in government, political reform, legislative behavior, and state politics. Kathryn has received two research grants from the Kinder Institute, as well as the Missouri Excellence in Political Science Teaching Award and the Dean L. Yearwood Scholarship for Excellence in American Policy Research. She is a G. Ellsworth Huggins Fellow at the University of Missouri, and has taught American Government in the Department of Political Science.